Melodic Development



This chapter is devoted to the exploration of the development within Arabic music. Now that we have seen what the tonal material is of the maqam system, we can take a look at what we can do with the material, and how to have our music transition from one tonal palette to another. The two key elements in this are sayr and modulation. They are closely intertwined, and I will explain both of them. Later on you will find some examples of different kinds of modulation.



Sayr is the way a melody progresses within a maqam. It tends to follow a path, or at least a set of options of where a melody can go. Shortcuts are always allowed, within the right conditions. In Arabic music, scales will generally not be run up and down. Sayr traditionally describes whether a piece starts at the high octave, or the lower octave, and how the melody resolves at the end.[1]

          Along the path within a composition of a piece or an improvisation, many different jins can be reached and addressed. Each maqam has paths of development, with jins along the way, that are more common than others and that add to the character of said maqam. In the chapter on maqamat I described a number of different jins that can be addressed during a piece within a specific maqam.



Just like western music, Arabic music is very open to modulations. In fact, Faraj & Shumays refer to modulation as “...the bread and butter of working with the Arabic maqam and a defining aspect of the Arabic music modal tradition.”[2] It should be noted that within a maqam any note or accidental might be borrowed from outside of the scale to provide melodic colouring around a melodic tonal centre.[3] There are generally three different things that can be seen as modulations. One being that the base jins stays the same, but the upper jins will change, starting from the ghammaz. It can be argued that this is not really a modulation, since the new maqam that is formed this way will be within the same family as the maqam that was played before. In a way this can be seen as changing the upper structure of, for example, a dominant chord. When comparing a C13, and a C7alt chord you will see that both chords have a lot in common. The root note, third and seventh of both chords are all the same, respectively C, E and Bb. Also, the function of the chord is the same, namely a dominant (V) chord with a strong harmonical pull towards an F chord. In terms of colour, both chords are very different. This is because of the upper structure of the chord. The C13, with a D, maybe F# and an A in the voicing will have a different flavor than the altered chord, with possibly all black pianokeys added (Db, Eb, Gb and Ab, since Bb was already in there). This form of modulation is often used in composition as well as improvisation to (temporarily) step out of the main colours of a maqam and showcase different textures of the same maqam family. 


Another way of modulation is to keep the same tonic, but change the base jins of the piece, or passage. In Futina Al'Lathi as sung by Rima Kcheich the song's sections change constantly between maqam rast and maqam nahawand. This is another way of elaborating the tonal material of a piece. The convenient thing about this is that the root note will stay the same. So if the accompaniment would play a drone, for example to support an improvisation, the soloist is free to change to whatever maqam they want without clashing with the other players. 


A third way is to change the tonic of the piece or improvisation. In this the soloist is free to change the tonic, as well as the melodic material, or to keep the melodic material, but change the centerpoint of the maqam. I want to stress that I am not talking about transposition here, so it is not that the whole tonal material is moved, like moving from hijaz on D to hijaz on E (I am not sure if this never happens, but I have yet to encounter an example of this). Much more common is to keep the same tonal material, but to change the tonal centerpoint. For example, if a composition were written in maqam hijaz on E, a very logical modulation would be to play maqam nikriz on D. This way all the notes stay the same (E - F - G# - A - B - C - D - E) but the centerpoint of the melody will shift to D (D - E - F - G# - A - B - C - D - E). It should be noted that when changing to nikriz, like in this example, will have consequences for the melodic phrasing. To familiarize oneself with all possible one must be comfortable in each maqam and find a way to transition between one to another. 

          A nice example of this happens in a composition called hijaz mandira. In the last phrases the tonal center changes for a short time from hijaz to nikrizas I mentioned in the example above. This piece has other nice modulations as well. 

[1] Faraj & Shumays, Inside Arabic Music, 283.

[2] Faraj & Shumays, Inside Arabic Music, 297.

[3] Karl L. Signell, Makam: Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1986), 68